Autobiographical Notes

Field Marshal Lord Harding of Petherton (1896-1989)
Lord Harding prepared the following autobiographical notes in instalments in 1974, which he sent to Hanna Nicholas

Born:    South Petherton, Somerset 10.2.1896

Father:   F E Harding, solicitor’s clerk

Mother: E E Harding (nee Anstice)

They were simple god-fearing people – staunch non-conformists – strict teetotallers etc. We (my three sisters and I) were strictly brought up – chapel morning and evening – Sunday school in the afternoon – on Sundays – The Bible and Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress for reading on Sunday – my father was the organist so we were in the choir – my eldest and youngest sisters were musical – my wife says I can’t recognise the National Anthem but that is an exaggeration – with it all we had a very happy home.

Forebears Yeoman farmers or small tradesmen in South Somerset

Educated:             “Dame” school – (Miss Daniel) – South Petherton

Ilminster Grammar School

Passed usual examinations

Played cricket and football for school but without much distinction.

Entered Civil Service as boy clerk and posted to Post Office Savings Bank

Attended night school and graduated as Intermediate and finally second division clerk – all in POSB.


May 1914             Persuaded to join Territorial Army and gazetted as second lieutenant in 11th county of London regiment (Finsbury Rifles)

During this period lived with Aunt (Sally) father’s sister and her husband, son and daughter (Pethers) in Harlesden (London suburb)

Aug 1914             Mobilised with Territorial Army on outbreak of First World War.

1914-15               Training in UK

Aug 1915             Landed Suvla Bay (Gallipoli). Wounded week later and evacuated to Egypt

Oct 1915               Rejoined unit at Anzac (Gallipoli) and there until evacuation, in command of machine gun section

1915-18                Served in Egypt, Sinai and Palestine – wounded at second battle of Gaza – awarded Military Cross. Finished the war in command 54th                                         Divisional Machine Gun Battalion (Acting Lieutenant Colonel)

Meantime had applied to and been granted regular commission in the Somerset Light Infantry (own County Regiment).

In England during summer of 1919 then to India with 12th Machine Gun Battalion as a Captain – joined 2nd Battalion Somerset LI in Lucknow as a subaltern – a long descent from Lieut Colonel!!! – but promoted Captain again a year later on appointment as Adjutant.

Soldiering in India in those days was a good life for a young unmarried officer – plenty of games – shooting – pig sticking – polo and social life – not too much work but enough to keep interest and all possible within the limits of pay.

1925-26                 Home on leave after six years in India – studied for Staff College exam and got engaged to be married to Mary Rooke a brother officer’s                                    sister and living at that time with her mother and stepfather at Long Ashton, near Bristol. Very happy and determined to get to Staff                                            College and make a success of army career.

1926                       Rejoined Regiment in Khartoum  – and saw something of the Sudan continued work for staff college.

1927                       Returned to UK with Regiment. Got married and heard had passed Staff College exam.

1928-29                 Staff College, Camberley – son (John Charles) born – worked quite hard on two year course -learnt a great deal – particularly from Field                                       Marshal (then Colonel) Montgomery who was my teacher in tactics – and a brilliant one.

1930                       Regimental duty

1931-35                 Staff appointments at Southern Command HQ (Salisbury) and Catterick (Brigade Major 13th Infantry Brigade – note Somerset LI is 13th                                      Regiment of foot).

Winter 1935-6       Saarbrucken as Brigade Major (senior Staff Officer) of British Contingent Saar International Force which comprised British, Dutch, Italian                                      and  Swedish contingents – very interesting and useful experience.

1935-6                   Regimental duty – company commander – on the way back!!

1937-9                   General Staff at the War Office with responsibility for first

a)            Disarmament – League of Nations matters as affecting the army – Intelligence or intervention by Germany, and Italy in Spanish                                                    Civil War – then as second war approached changing to responsibility for

b)            Supply of war material to potential allies – not a very happy assignment as had little enough for ourselves

During these years we lived in a London flat and our son started his school career. It wasn’t easy to make both ends meet on my pay but my mother-in-law helped and we usually went to Long Ashton for holidays – sometimes to my parents at South Petherton – quite a good life on the whole – and then I was promoted a Brevet Lieut. Colonel (rank but no pay) and was selected to command 1st Battalion The Somerset Light Infantry then serving in India.

July 1939              Left for India leaving wife and son with mother-in-law – wife planned to follow after school holidays – that prevented by outbreak of war.

1939-40                Training battalion in India – more and more frustrating as general view was that war could not last more than 6 months for financial                                            reasons.  Tried to persuade my battalion that they’d have more than enough of it before it ended.

Winter 1939-40    Operations on North West Frontier – covering building a road in Waziristan – a useful experience.

Sep 1940              Selected for a staff job in India but managed to get out of it by good luck as feared would be stuck in India for rest of war – instead in Sept                               1940 sent to Middle East for staff appointment -very sorry to say goodbye to Battalion – commanding a battalion of your own Regiment is                                 the best experience any infantry officer can have – I was very lucky as I’d been adjutant of the 2nd Battalion and had commanded the 1st                                   Battalion.

Sept 1940             Arrived in Cairo and found no definite job there – did odd jobs for a few weeks at GHQ and then was sent to the Western Desert as liaison                                 officer at HQ Western Desert Force then commanded by General Dick O’Connor who had also been a teacher – and a very good one -at                                     Camberley Staff    College when I was a student – so into the war and in good company – just in time as the offensive against the Italians                                   was about to begin.

Left Bombay for Egypt in troopship carrying Australian troops for Middle East – fine men but poor discipline – ship joined convoy off Aden                                and convoy attacked by Italian aircraft in Red Sea but no damage – first experience of air attacks – not very impressed. Views changed later.                                Arrived in Cairo and reported to GHQ Middle East but found job for which had been sent from India non-existent. Did temporary jobs at                                    GHQ and HQs British Troops in Egypt – while at latter became involved in plans for offensive against Italian forces which had invaded Egypt,                              and with General O’Connor then commanding Western Desert Force – who had been a teacher at Camberley Staff College when I was a                                      student.

Appointed liaison officer between General Wilson commanding British Troops in Egypt and General O’Connor commanding Western Desert                              Force. Thus was involved in the offensive from the start and after about a week was appointed Brigadier General Staff (what would not be                                  called Chief of Staff) and promoted to rank of Brigadier.

Worked in very close association with General O’Connor throughout this campaign which ended in complete defeat of Italian forces – and                                 left us in occupation of greater part of Libya ie Cyrenaica. An exciting, exhilarating and invaluable experience – General O’Connor paid me                                 the great compliment of describing me as “an officer of outstanding ability, and I have never met a better Staff Officer”. I learnt a great deal                               about command in battle from him and we have remained close friends ever since.

General O’Connor whose health was none too good was succeeded in command in Cyrenaica by General Wilson who in turn was                                               succeeded by General Warne. I remained as Chief of Staff.


Feb/March 1941  German counter-offensive led by Rommel, a brilliant tactical opportunist – British forces greatly reduced by transfer to Greece – German                                    armour superior – British forces driven back to Tobruk – Generals O’Connor and Warne captured. Narrowly escaped capture myself – very                                     frightened and anxious but too busy organising defence of Tobruk mainly with Australian troops to worry too much!!! John Laverack an                                     Australian General put in command – stayed as Chief of Staff to him.

1941-42               Second British offensive – and second German counter offensive – two more Generals – Got to know the desert really well.

Jan 1942               After 18 months in the desert – Chief of Staff to seven Generals in succession – never slept out of clothes or without a telephone by head –                                 exhilarated, frightened, frustrated in turn – but fortunately fit and well. Was ordered to report to GHQ Middle East in Cairo with                                                   responsibility for training throughout Middle East command. Promoted Major-General.

Embarked on new job full of enthusiasm and anxiety to ensure lessons of past 18 months desert warfare – air and armour – passed on – set                                up training establishment in Palestine. Visited Iraq – met Field Marshal Bill Slim for first time.

Aug 1942             Appointed Deputy Chief of Staff Middle East with responsibility for training, organisation and equipment.

Meantime German third counter-offensive had driven British forces back to Alamein position -and most critical situation yet in Middle East                                 had arisen.

Prime Minister (Churchill) visited Cairo, dismissed Auchinleck and appointed Alexander Commander in Chief. Montgomery to command                                    8th Army. I remained as Deputy Chief of Staff. Sent for by Monty. Met Alex for first time – asked for run-down on all commanders and                                        formations – prolonged quiz by Monty who was teacher at Staff College when I was a student.

Very strenuous time trying [to] meet Monty’s demands for re-organisation and equipment for 8th Army – also detailed [to] show Alex                                        round the desert.

Sept 1942             Sent for by Alex and told was to go back to desert to command 7th Armoured Division (the original “Desert Rats”) – delighted but very                                       anxious if able compete.

Reported to Monty. Took over 7th Armed Dis. Had warm welcome from many old friends. Mike Carver (now Field Marshal Sir Michael                                        Carver Chief of the General Staff) Chief of Staff – a great tower of strength – preparations for attacks in full progress – a very busy – and                                      exciting – time all round.


Oct 1942               BATTLE OF ALAMEIN – on left flank at first – task to contain enemy forces there without crippling losses – very frightened and anxious –                                     pulled through by staff and troops. Move to right flank and held in readiness for pursuit – broke through at last and hunt began. Previous                                 knowledge invaluable – after a series of fights against German and Italian rearguards – some pauses for logistic reasons – 7 Armd. Div                                          always in front reached last rearguard position

Jan 1943               Germans could hold before evacuating Tripoli – in a great hurry – but severely wounded and nearly died – thanks to marvellous medical                                     attention – particularly blood transfusions – survived and was evacuated to hospital in Cairo. Can’t remember much about next few weeks                                   except greatly disappointed having spent 2 and a half years trying to get to Tripoli to be put of action only a few miles off!! and a great                                     longing to get home.

Jan-July 1943       In hospital in Cairo – various operations – wonderful care and attention –  evacuated to UK – difficult journey by sea plane via Sudan –                                        Congo  – West Africa – Portugal. In and out of aircraft two or three times daily – had to do own dressings (of wounds) but on the way home                                so any problems worthwhile.

July-Oct 1943     In and out of hospital – graded unfit for further active employment but eventually sent to Wingfield-Morris hospital, Oxford (now Nuffield                                 Orthopaedic Centre). In hands of Professor Seddon (now Sir Herbert Seddon) – restored movement to left arm and right leg – upgraded                                     medically and

Nov 1943           appointed to command 8th Corps, a formation allotted to “overlord” – invasion of Europe – delighted and excited – visited and talked to all                                 units and formations – intent on ensuring lessons learnt applied to future operations.

Christmas          Home with family in Dorset – surprised by summons to proceed to Italy to be

1943-44            Chief of Staff to Alexander.

To Algiers – then Naples – then Brindisi in search of Alexander – caught up with him in Tunis – very worried about plans for Anzio landing –                                  also general conduct of Italian companion.

MARAKESH conference with Prime Minister – more worried than ever – ignorance of combined operations.

BATTLE FOR ROME – problems of Anglo-American relationships – land and air – need for concentration – see Shepherd’s history of the Italian                            Campaign.

1944-45             Final stages of the war – arguments with London and Washington about diversion from Italy to South of France – Victory in Italy – advance to                            Trieste – contact with Yugoslav resistance forces – problems of

1945-47             Italians – Yugoslav relationships and frontiers – formation of police forces – experiences of communist methods and philosophies. War crime                              trials – all mixed up with the interests and beauties of Italian scenery, history and antiquities. At Castello Duino – a new and different world –                              where Latin-Teuton and Slav races meet and have mingled. A very interesting, instructive and at times enjoyable interlude.

July 1947-49      COMMANDER IN CHIEF SOUTHERN COMMAND. Rebuilding the army on a post-war basis – problems on the Territorial Army – future of                                    National Service – training establishments – their functions and policies – Shinwell as CofS – Essentials of discipline and leadership – changes                              in  philosophies stemming from social and economic developments.

July 1949-51      COMMANDER IN CHIEF FAR EAST LAND FORCES. The Malayan emergency – jungle warfare – command and responsibility in subversive                                      operations. Problems of relationships between civil administration – police -armed forces – integration essential, co-operation not enough.                                Appointment of Director of Operations – leading to eventual combination of all function of government in one person – Gerald Templer.                                    Contribution of Gurkhas – significance of SE Asia – Malcolm MacDonald’s contribution.

War in Korea – British contribution

Situation in Indo-China – visit to Tonkin – week with de Lattre de Tassigny. Staying in Hanoi.

Far East problems generally – Hong Kong – Malaya – Singapore – a very interesting and instructive period.

Evils of partition – India – Korea – Vietnam – a political device to stop fighting but really a counsel of failure.

General conclusion – no possibility of compromise between communist doctrines and western concept of a free society.

Aug 1951- Sept 1952      COMMANDER IN CHIEF BRITISH ARMY OF THE RHINE. Very interesting period coinciding with change from army occupation to                                      army  of co-operation in defence of west. Problems with Belgian and Dutch contingents comprising Northern Army Group. Incipient                                          problems of German re-armament and integration as Allies alias enemies. Meetings with German generals – Speidel and Heusinger – varying                              attitudes of German people – cowed and arrogant in turn. Inter-service and inter-allied arguments. Exchanges with Americans – French –                                    Belgians – Dutch colleagues – logistic problems – nationalistic prejudices and “commercial” interests – the “not invented here” stumbling                                    block to ——— rationalisation and armament standardisation – realisation of the strength of national frontiers based on commercial                                        advantage.

Summer 1952      Interviewed by Winston and Alex in connection with appointment as Chief of Imperial General Staff. Fortunate in fact discussion never got                                beyond First World War before PM had to leave to vote in local government elections!!

Main contender Brian Robertson, a good friend and colleague in Italian campaigns. Most grateful that friendship never suffered from own                                  selection for post.

Oct 1952             Appointed Chief of Imperial General Staff in succession to Field Marshal Lord Slim.


An exacting but intensely interesting 3 years as professional head of the army, involving regular meetings of the Army Council, Chiefs of Staff                             Committee, Defence Committee (presided over by the Prime Minister) and occasionally meetings of the Cabinet.

United Kingdom and Germany – periodical visits to Army units and formations further afield ie Middle East and Far East. Attendance at                                       meetings of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Military Committee and occasionally the NATO Council in Paris; personal contacts                             with NATO and Commonwealth Chiefs of Staff and occasionally Ministers of Commonwealth and Allied Governments.

Visits overseas included Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya 1953 and 1954 in connection with Mau Mau rebellion, Malaya and                                     Singapore in connection with anti-terrorist operations, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. Finally, Turkey and Cyprus in early summer of 1955.

(Visit to Cyprus was accidental as my wife was very anxious to see the island.  As we flew out I said to her “You’ve seen Cyprus, you’ll never                                 see it again” -the following October we went back there for 2 years to try and restore law and order and effect a political settlement!!)

Sept-Oct 1955   Preparing to say goodbye to the Army and to hand over to General (now Field Marshal) Templer.

Last big argument with Government over duration of National Service – succeeded at Cabinet meeting on retaining 2 years – on grounds of                               sheer inefficiency of any shorter period – delighted – then a bombshell – sent for by Prime Minister (Eden) and pressed hard to accept                                         appointment Governor Cyprus – First reaction to refuse – but persuaded to accept for strategic reasons – and to go at once. Handed over                                   CIGS to Templer and left London with wife and small staff arriving Cyprus early Oct (see “Bitter Lemons” by Lawrence Durrell page 209 et                                   seq).


1955-57             CYPRUS

Two years of hard work, great anxiety, some personal danger, some failures, a few successes, learnt a lot, made some firm and lasting                                        friendships.

Task was two-fold – to restore law and order i.e. defeat Grivas and EOKA – or at least to convince them they couldn’t win their way – and to                                lay  the foundations for a lasting and peaceful solution of the political, racial and social problems of the island.

FIRST SIX MONTHS – dual policy – reorganisation of police – development of intelligence organisation – training of security forces –                                             integration as opposed to co-operation between civil administration – police-armed forces – coupled with search for political agreement – 8                               meetings with Archbishop Makarios – no result – conclusion concentrate on security operations – get Archbishop out of the way – detention                               followed by  deportation agreed by HMG and carried out.

SECOND PHASE – Concentrations against EOKA – new tactical methods – introduction of helicopters – tightening of control of arms,                                           ammunition and explosives, expansion of publicity etc success against mountain gangs – problems of urban murder squads – case of Nicos                               Sampson, a “dedicated” killer if ever there was one.

Summer 1956    Interruption in anti-terrorist operations caused by Suez – diversion of attention and interest – a serious set-back.

March 1957        EOKA call it a day – resumption of political discussions with Athens and Ankara – slow and limited progress – Makarios released from                                         Seychelles with freedom to go to Athens, London etc but not to return to Nicosia.

Aug 1957            Labour party conference agreed at instigation of Barbara Castle would grant self-determination to Cyprus on return to power. Result –                                       Greeks and Turks for opposite reasons retired to their trenches and productive political discussions came to a halt.

Sep-Oct 1957     Reported to HMG future prospects and developments primarily in political field and asked be relieved – having served agreed term of 2                                     years and succeeded in containing EOKA which best could be done by Security operations. HMG reluctantly agreed – handed over to Hugh                               Foot (now Lord Caradon) early Nov 1957 and returned to UK.